Volume 34, Issue 2, Fall 2020
Employing Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems
Ethical Issues in the Use of Artificial Intelligence in Military Leadership
The ethics of warfare and military leadership must pay attention to the rapidly increasing use of artificial intelligence and machines. Who is responsible for the decisions made by a machine? Do machines make decisions? May they make them? These issues are of particular interest in the context of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS). Are they autonomous or just automated? Do they violate the international humanitarian law which requires that humans must always be responsible for the use of lethal force and for the assessment that civilian casualties are proportionate to the military goals? The article analyses relevant documents, opinions, government positions, and commentaries using the methods of applied ethics. The main conceptual finding is that the definition of autonomy depends on what the one presenting it seeks to support. Those who want to use lethal autonomous weapon systems call them by another name, say, automated instead of autonomous. They impose standards on autonomy that machines do not meet, such as moral agency. Those who wish to ban the use of lethal autonomous weapon systems define them much less broadly and do not require them to do much more than to be a self-standing part of the causal chain.The article’s argument is that the question of responsibility is most naturally perceived by abandoning the most controversial philosophical considerations and simply stating that an individual or a group of people is always responsible for the creation of the equipment they produce and use. This does not mean that those who press the button, or their immediate superiors, are to blame. They are doing their jobs in a system. The ones responsible can probably be found in higher military leadership, in political decision-makers who dictate their goals, and, at least in democracies, in the citizens who have chosen their political decision-makers.